Sachar Mathias is a producer, sound designer, and storyteller from Brooklyn. She is an NY Emmy-nominated Supervising Producer at BRIC TV and produces a slate of podcasts for BRIC Radio – the podcasting platform she launched in 2016. BRIC Radio’s current lineup includes Last Name Basis, 112BK, B-Side, and Brooklyn, USA. Sachar and I sat down for a conversation at BRIC House, the organization’s homebase in Downtown Brooklyn, to talk about how she started this new branch of BRIC and the importance of representation in emerging media.
Steinert-Evoy: Could you start by explaining a little about BRIC and your position there?
Mathias: BRIC is the leading presenter of free cultural programming in Brooklyn, and one of the largest in New York City. We present and incubate new work by artists and media-makers who reflect the diversity that surrounds us. We’re probably best known for the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn Festival that takes place every summer in Prospect Park, but community media is a huge part of what BRIC does as well. BRIC runs all of Brooklyn’s public access television channels and offers a range of low-cost and free media education courses to anyone who wants to learn how to make media, or get better at making it.
I’m the Supervising Producer at BRIC TV, which is BRIC’s award-winning cable TV and digital network made up of about 20-25 producers, editors, PAs, and journalists. We produce a ton of short documentaries, quarterly town halls, and somewhat recently moved into producing narrative series. The second season of one of those series, , premiered at Sundance this year, which was very cool.
A few months after I started working here, I pitched the idea of adding podcast production to the list of things that BRIC TV does. Our Executive Producer was super supportive of the idea, and challenged me to come up with a plan on how to pull it off. I was lucky to be able to work with StoryCorps and New York Times alum Sarah Kramer on coming up with a plan for a podcasting network, the basic tenets of which were: BRIC does a bunch of things really well that are important to the community, and podcasting is both growing in relevance and in its democracy of production. Conceptually, it fit very well into everything else that was going on here, and thus, BRIC Radio was born.
Steinert-Evoy: What were some of the other shows you started with?
Mathias: One of our first podcasts was B-Side, which is a re-edit of a live, weekly music show we produce. We’re really lucky in that we can re-edit a lot of our video work from scratch, and turn it into into audio content. So for B-Side, I took an hour-long TV show and made it a 30-minute podcast, without skipping a beat.
Another show we launched with was a collaboration with Brooklyn College Radio called Talkin’ 4 Curry. We saw that these talented Brooklyn College students with great personalities were making these weekly shows, so we reached out to the Department of Television and Radio, listened to a bunch of their programs, and ended up adapting a long-standing weekly radio show about Caribbean culture into a podcast. Then Franchesca Ramsey and her husband Patrick Kondas were producing a podcast on their own, so I reached out to them about joining our roster, and a few meetings and email threads later, we had our third show,
Lastly, there’s Brooklyn, USA, which is narrative journalism and storytelling from the fold. It’s central to this organization to cradle Brooklyn, care for it, and treat it very respectfully, so that’s what we try to do with the show: present a complete and authentic picture of who, what and where Brooklyn is.
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Steinert-Evoy: How do you go about producing episodes of Brooklyn, USA? Did you do a call for pitches at the beginning, and do you work mostly with independent contractors or are staff members making the episodes? How does the whole process work?
Mathias: All of those things. There’s only been five episodes, and they’ve all materialized in slightly different ways. We held a public call for pitches and got some great responses, and also have an incredible team of producers here with really deep connections to Brooklyn, so there’s been no shortage of stories to tell. For episode two, one of our journalists, Sriyanka Ray, pitched a trio of profiles of refugees to Brooklyn, and we loved it enough to dedicate the entire episode to. “We” are BRIC Radio’s Associate Producer Emily [Boghossian] and I, who are the two people who run this entire thing.
The next episode, a producer got in touch, saying that he had some tape from the Summerhill protest and resulting community meeting, and wanted to mold it into a piece. We were already producing an episode about Crown Heights, so we just folded his idea into what we were already working on, which was a sort of cheerful, summer-y window into a few people’s lives in the neighborhood. It’s been my experience that there’s sometimes a tendency to only talk to marginalized groups when there’s a problem. So something that’s important to me is finding light, fun stories from certain communities. And that’s something we tried to do with the episode, and with episode two: highlight the really nice things that people like about the places they came from, or where they live, instead of focusing on what’s broken.
Steinert-Evoy: Producing a podcast can be a full-time job, and it seems like you already have several other jobs here at BRIC. How do you manage that?
Mathias: The first thing I would be remiss not to say is that I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without Emily. There was a very gnarly couple of months when I was doing it alone — finding and signing talent, producing shows, recording episodes, editing everything, adding metadata to mp3s, uploading tracks — until she joined the team last January. So yeah, that’s how I can manage it: by having a very, very, very strong number two and a ton of support from the larger BRIC TV team.
Steinert-Evoy: What makes working at BRIC unique, or different from working at a podcast network or radio station?
Mathias: Diversity is in BRIC’s DNA, and that was a main reason to try and start podcasting here: it was a good way to try and expose new audience to the form, and to get new, unexpected voices into the growing podcasting world. That’s maybe the most important thing I should have said about what we do: we’re diverse by nature because we represent Brooklyn, and Brooklyn is incredibly diverse.
We answer to the community — our responsibility is to enrich, represent, educate, and give opportunities to Brooklyn’s community. It would be nice if trillions of people were listening to our podcasts, but we measure success by how well we reflect and serve the community. BRIC is so embedded in Brooklyn and has been for decades, so we have ties to the community and to a bunch of local organizations and personalities. There’s a well-established a trust of BRIC to do good for Brooklyn and that makes our work easier and more fulfilling.
Sophia Steinert-Evoy is Podcast Review’s interviews editor, an independent audio producer, and a bartender. She is based in Brooklyn, NY.